Thursday, July 05, 2007

Our Summer of Love (Naked If I Want To)

Nineteen sixty-seven, yes: but for us, the Summer of Golf, the Summer of Lawn Mowing, the Summer of Listening to Albums (phonograph recordings that spun on a turntable and were translated into sound by a needle), the latter and former of which we did, quasi-religiously, in the company of our best friend R-b, the middle activity one we pursued alone, with our dad’s Lawn Boy, 6 or 7 yards at $3 per---a reasonable price, even then, and these were big lawns by today’s standards. We’d take the proceeds, the first money we’d earned, and save it for incidentals when on the links ---hamburgers, French fries, tees, balls---or to buy phonograph recordings at a downtown record shop called Leisure Landing (actual name), where all the new 33 1/3 long players could be had for a steeply discounted $2.79 (or maybe it was $3.79). Then we’d sit in R-b’s bedroom and listen to his little “stereo” with the blue speakers, tuning our heads to messages from a world that seemed faraway and exotic but even then was barreling our way.

At that point, though, our interest in these doings was limited to the music, to whanging the Sunshine of Your Love riff on the guitar or trying to grow our hair out, a little, but primarily to listening to the great albums that were issuing forth that season, at least the ones we could find. To that end we’d glean direction on our consumer purchases from Hit Parader and the ersatz hippie magazines (we think there was one called Eye, and one called Cheetah) that’d we’d flip through while loitering at the newsstand next to Leisure Landing, which reeked of Have-a-Tampas and whose proprietor booked racetrack wagers from behind a high glass counter. Or we’d pick up on something new from the loosely formatted local Top 40 station, where we first heard Sgt. Pepper’s---they played almost every song off it, this in the days before the proliferation of “underground” FM stations. For his part, R-b would buy a record based solely on the psychedelic goofiness of the cover or the outrageousness of the band’s name, which is how we came to be sitting in his room on a rainy Saturday afternoon listening to as much as we could take of an agonizingly bad and pretentious (although we didn’t know what the word meant at the time) album by Ultimate Spinach (for some reason we have a clear visual memory of this long-ago interval of meaninglessness but can no longer recall what our kids sounded like when they were tykes---one of the brutal mysteries of time, we guess).

Ah, but the good stuff: It wasn’t just Sgt. Pepper’s but Traffic’s first album (Paper Sun---a cogent, poppy dissertation on life as illusion), The Doors’ scary first album, the initial Hendrix offering (for several weeks that summer the radio advertised an upcoming concert at the Lakeshore Auditorium in Baton Rouge featuring the Monkees and opening act The Jimi Hendrix Experience), Cream’s Disraeli Gears (this stuff was educational: We consulted the World Book Encyclopedia to determine who or what this Disraeli was), the Mothers of Invention’s Absolutely Free ... The music was better not because we were young and stupid, but because it was better.

One of R-b’s impulse purchases was the first Moby Grape album, which we spun constantly that summer and fall. Most of the above-mentioned music still holds up but this one sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, or in a shack in the woods behind Uncle Jed’s house in 1934. No tangerine trees and marmalade skies, but a careening, amped-up insistency. A love song titled Hey Grandma (“You’re so fine, but your old man is just a boy”) and harmonized questions without answers: “Would let me walk down the street, naked if I want to?” and “Can I buy an amplifier on time?” Not just timeless, but utilitarian.

The Moby Grape album was mildly infamous because one of the band members was photographed on the cover surreptitiously shooting the bird, a middle finger stretched out over a knee, or a washboard, something. The guy was trying to appear casual, like kids still do when flipping one in the class picture, but it was the first thing you noticed when you looked at the album. The record company airbrushed the protruding digit off the cover of future pressings, but R-b got his copy early. It came with a poster of the album cover, enhanced to many times scale, the bird-flipping big as day. R-b put the poster up on the wall, but his dad walked into his room that night and made him take it down.

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